Plans to build a 22,500-square-foot firearm and ammunition retail box store and indoor shooting range in north Visalia are on hold at the developer’s request. Construction of the mega-sized gun shop was on the agenda of the Visalia Planning Commission latest meeting Monday, November 14. A public hearing was scheduled, continuing a process begun in late October.
Sticking to His Guns
Instead, Bob Gaalswyk, owner of Smokin’ Barrel Firearms, asked for an indefinite continuance of the hearing. The construction site he’d picked at the Village at Willow Creek shopping center was no longer available. But, he’s not giving up.
“I am searching again,” Gaalswky said.
When he finds a new location, the city says the permitting process – with its public hearings to take community input – must start over. Notices of the hearings, when they’re scheduled, will be published in local newspapers and mailed to the owners of property within 300 feet of the new construction site.
The location he’d picked was ideal, as the Village at Willow Creek – on North Demaree Road between West Riggen and West Flagstaff Avenues – is already home to Smokin’ Barrel, the much smaller shop Gaalswyk has operated for eight and a half years. The search for its replacement could take a long time, he said.
“We’re back to square one,” said Gaalswyk. “I’m being kind of picky where I want to go.”
He, like all business owners and operators interested in expanding in Visalia, would like to avoid areas of the city that have degraded as Visalia struggles with poverty and a large population of unhoused individuals.
Home on the Range
What Gaalswyk has in mind for his expanded location is essentially a scaled-up version of the shop he’s been manning for the better part of a decade.
What the Planning Commission’s agenda describes as a “a new 22,500-square-foot building for use as a retail gun store and indoor shooting range” doesn’t quite cover what Gaalswyk has in mind for the future.
“It’s what I have now on steroids plus a shooting range,” he said. “We’ve outgrown our little space.”
Besides adding Visalia’s first and the county’s only indoor shooting range, the new location will boast a classroom for firearm safety instruction, as well as expanded offices. The larger shop will provide a rental counter. Customers will be able to test a wide range of weaponry. The new location will also provide storage for an expanded inventory, allowing for a greater range and volume of stock.
As with the current store, Gaalswyk said customer satisfaction will remain a priority, as it’s been the key to his long-term success.
“We’re not a box store,” he said. “You know ‘the ‘support local’ thing?’ It’s kind of big in the community.”
By “community,” Gaalswyk means Visalia and the county as a whole, not just the very large base of satisfied customers he’s assembled over the years.
His firearm customers come in all the expected varieties.
“It’s all of the above. People buying shotguns for doves. First time shooters getting something for the house,” he said. “It’s pretty even across the board.”
The shop is also a good location for getting layperson advice on navigating the state’s complex firearm and ammunition laws.
“As best we can without being lawyers, we will tell them what we know,” Gaalswyk said.
The shop is located at 3222 N. Demaree Street in Visalia.
Friends and Rivals
When Visalia finally gets its first indoor shooting range, it will be the second one to open its doors locally. Kings Gun Center in Hanford also has one.
That range and gun shop is owned by Todd Cotta, a former Fresno County Sheriff’s deputy and one-time candidate for State Assembly. He’s also a long-time friend of Gaalswyk. He described himself as having mentored Gaalswyk as he started in the firearms business.
While Cotta obviously enjoys having a monopoly on the indoor shooting range business, he said the competition from Visalia will be a good thing for the local community of firearm owners.
“We’ll have more shooters in the Valley,” he said.
Cotta said he explored opening an indoor range in Visalia, but found there was resistance to the idea from City Hall. He said completing the project could be uphill work for Gaalswyk.
“There are a lot of challenges ahead for him,” Cotta said. “I’d like to build in Visalia, but the atmosphere was prohibitive.”
New Gun Advertising Law
One of the challenges Cotta and Gaalswyk will face in the future is the possibility of heavy fines for advertising their merchandise to anyone 18 or younger. A new law – Assembly Bill 2571 – makes it a crime for a “firearm industry member” to advertise in a way that is “attractive to minors.”
Violations carry a $25,000 fine per incident, Cotta said, and it presents a threat to firearm safety that those who wrote the law likely did not intend. He and other gun shop and shooting range owners and operators can no longer legally provide firearm safety courses to anyone 18 or younger.
“The next generation of Americans have gotten nothing but a barrage of, ‘Guns are bad,'” he said. “They don’t learn gun safety anymore.”
The new law is also presenting a problem for groups such as 4-H and Boy and Girl Scouts that used to provide firearm safety instruction to their young members. Both groups have a strong presence locally.
That, Cotta said, is why he has mixed feelings about his friend going into head-to-head competition with him.
“I don’t love that it’s happening, but expanding gun ownership in the Valley is always a good thing,” he said.
Cotta said he wishes Gaalswyk luck, but he’s still upping his own game, something he’s been planning since before his friend made his own move to expand.
“The more we can get safety and training for people, the better,” Cotta said. “I’m working on opening training locations in Tulare County.”
Why Shoot Inside?
Clearly, shooting ranges are popular with firearm owners, with outdoor ranges operating in both Visalia and Tulare. But, Gaalswyk said indoor ranges offer a better environment, one that’s more consistent throughout the changing seasons.
The area’s weather can be harsh at both extremes, limiting training time and the desire to brave the elements.
“In the summer it’s blazing hot; in the winter it’s cold and wet,” Gaalswyk said. “You don’t sweat and don’t freeze (inside).”
And because the range will be connected with his expanded shop, there’s a second attraction.
“There’s a sales aspect,” Gaalswky said. “You can try weapons you like.”